Monday, March 1, 2010

Teen sex: It's up to parents to draw the line

March 1, 2010

Lowering the age of consent will only worsen the problem
By Sujin Thomas

'GIRLS are so modern these days!'

That's an exclamation one hears often from older folk. They don't mean to be flattering.

It seems girls here are so 'modern' they are having sex at a younger and younger age. Teenage sex seems to be on the rise, with no signs of abating, never mind that sex with girls under 16 is illegal, and sex with girls under 14 is considered statutory rape. Males, old or young, will get the book thrown at them if they have sex with an under-16 girl.

The United States and Britain set the consent age at 16, but no one would realise this, given the sex and pregnancy figures among teenagers. A study in the US last year showed it had the highest levels of teen pregnancy among developed nations. Nearly half (46 per cent) of all 15- to 19-year-olds in the US have had sex at least once.

Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Western Europe despite official campaigns to reduce the problem. According to The Telegraph, six under-15 girls become pregnant every day.
It would appear then that having a consent age is no barrier to teen sex. In fact, some countries like Peru have thrown in the towel so to speak, by lowering the age of consent.

In 2007, Peruvian lawmakers lowered the age of consent from 17 to 14. An overwhelming majority of legislators - 70 out of 80 - voted in favour of the change.

After all, why should the law intervene when nature takes its course? Most of the males who had sex with teenage girls were not paedophiles but youngsters.

Why penalise two people who think they are in love? Aren't teenagers getting more mature over time?

The lawmakers said that the change would bring Peru in line with 'the progress and development of a modern society'.

They also argued that there were cases of young girls getting pregnant but not seeking proper medical help because they feared their partners would be prosecuted by the law. Why risk pushing teenage girls to have backyard abortions because they want to protect their lovers?

So what should Singapore do as our teenagers go the way of teenagers in other so-called 'modern' societies?

The usual answers are trotted out: More sex education in schools, more communication between parents and children, more awareness of the risks of indulging in promiscuous sex.
All wonderful, though not original, ideas. But here's a thought as to why we should pursue these answers further. It all boils down to this: What sort of society do we want to become?

The good news, if it can be considered as such, is that six out of 10 statutory rape cases here involved young girls having sex with their boyfriends. These are young males, between 13 and 19, not dirty old men or paedophiles who prey on girls.

Many of these cases have never even been heard in court as the males were also teens. In such circumstances, the boys - who claim to be in love with the girls - may be counselled or let off with a stern warning.

The authorities do make a distinction between puppy love and paedophilia. Older males are prosecuted under the Penal Code, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years' jail and caning.

Can one conclude that most of the teenagers who claim to be in love merely stumbled over the consent age? Should we look more kindly on them? If their bodies have matured, perhaps their minds have too.

Lawyer Subhas Anandan says he has handled about 20 cases of statutory rape over the past five years. The young girls involved in these cases were often well-endowed and appeared more mature than they really were.

That is, until they opened their mouths to speak.

'I could immediately tell when they spoke that they were not in a proper frame of mind to make good decisions,' Mr Subhas said.

Nor do teens know enough to protect themselves against disease. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have been on the rise among teenagers here. In 2008, 791 teens were diagnosed with STIs at the DSC Clinic in Kelantan Lane, more than three times the 238 cases in 2002.

There is reason to doubt if many teenagers even know that sex is illegal for them. For many parents, however, teenage sex is still taboo. According to the police, most police reports of sex involving teenagers were filed by parents of the underage girls.

A girl losing her virginity too early or being promiscuous is still considered unacceptable behaviour. And randy young men who cannot discipline themselves and their bodies are 'bad boys'.

But will that continue to be the case when these children grow up and become parents themselves? Or will the effects of pop culture overcome what is now considered unacceptable behaviour?

It is not uncommon to watch movies and television programmes where strict parents are viewed as unreasonable people when they circumscribe their teenage children's movements and friendships and draw the line at sexual intimacy. They usually receive some sort of come-uppance or go into throes of regret because of their strictures.

The 'good' parents are those who accept - ultimately, at least - the foibles and follies of their pregnant daughters and their boyfriends. They become premature grandparents, and throw a loving family circle of warmth around all.

If Singapore wants to stay the way it is, then parents - not police - are the thin blue line. Yes, the issue is moral - unless Singapore society finds rising rates of unwanted pregnancies, teen mothers and sexually transmitted diseases acceptable.

[This article is kinda pointless. It has a point, but it doesn't fight very strongly for it. Basically, it is to say, don't lower the age of consent. I agree. But if I didn't agree, it wasn't very convincing argument.]

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